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Dazed and confused: Are you administering the contract... or the construction?

are you administering the contract… or the construction?

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Design professionals use various terms in contracts, websites and correspondence to describe their services during the construction phase of a project.

For decades, many A/Es have used the term “construction administration” (instead of “contract administration”) to refer to services they provide during the construction phase of a project. Some lawyers, echoing their clients’ jargon, have also used “construction administration” in their writings and pleadings. The term has found its way into books, magazine articles, and even earlier editions of AXA XL’s Contract eGuide for Design Professionals. But is that the term you should be using?

You won’t find “construction administration” anywhere in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) B101™-2017 Owner-Architect Agreement, the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC®) E-500 2014 Standard Form Agreement Between Owner & Engineer for Professional Services or the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Canadian Standard Form of Contract for Architectural Services – Document Six, 2018 Edition.

Instead, the AIA documents use the term “administration of the contract.” Under “Construction Phase Services,” the B101 states the “Architect shall provide administration of the Contract between the Owner and the Contractor.” (Ditto AIA A201-2017 General Conditions of the Contract for Construction.) The EJCDC documents also use the term “construction contract administration” as well as “general administration of construction contract.” RAIC’s documents call it “administration of the construction contract.”

The glossary in AIA’s The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, Fifteenth Edition, defines “construction contract administration services” as:

Services for the architect’s general administration of the construction contract(s). This includes reviewing and certifying amounts due the contractor, reviewing the contractor’s submittals, preparing change orders, making site visits to observe progress of the work, and conducting site inspections to determine dates of substantial completion and final completion.

 The term “construction administration” does not appear in the handbook’s glossary.1

Some industry professionals prefer to omit the word “construction” entirely, feeling that “contract administration” more appropriately describes an A/E’s services. According to Al Rabasca, AXA XL’s Director of Industry Relations, “A/Es are, after all, administering the contract, not the construction.”

In any case, many design professionals are moving away from using the term “construction administration.” “The term can be confusing,” Rabasca says. He points out that to a layperson, “administer” isn’t a far cry from “supervise” or “manage” and some—including clients—could mistakenly believe that “construction administration” means “construction supervision” or “construction management.”

“You can’t assume everyone, including jurors, understands what we intend when we use industry shorthand,” Rabasca says. “You just know that some lawyer somewhere would be able to persuade a jury that construction administration means managing the construction.”

What about “construction observation”?
Rabasca says many clients and even some emerging professionals also confuse “construction observation” with “construction contract administration.” The latter often includes the former, but the former definitely does not describe the latter (are you still with us?).

The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice defines “observation of the work” in this way:

That part of the architect’s contract administration services in which the architect visits the site to become generally familiar with the progress and quality of the work completed to determine, in general, if the work observed is being performed in a manner indicating it will be in accordance with the contract documents when fully completed.

The bottom line
So, what term should you use? Rabasca says you’re better off using terms used by the AIA, EJCDC or RAIC. “Administration of the contract,” “construction contract administration” and “contract administration” more accurately describe a design professional’s role during construction phase services. “Being precise in our terminology is important,” Rabasca says. “It can help shape expectations, give clients and their lawyers one less toehold to try to distort what an A/E is responsible for, and ultimately reduce the risk of misunderstandings and disputes.”


1 AIA’s The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice, Fifteenth Edition.

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